Photo - Garth Oriander
At the very beginning of Headlock, by physical theatre company KAGE, the cast create their own performance space, erecting the elasticised rope barriers of a boxing ring before the eyes of the audience.
In the course of the performance, this boxing ring becomes, among other places, a prison cell, a railway line, concert venue, and beach jetty. So it’s clear: everyday life, in all its aspects, is a place you must survive.
In some ways Headlock, directed by Kate Denborough, is a gentle meditation on male expressions of love. It’s hard to imagine the word “gentle” applying to a physical theatre show featuring an inmate’s first night in prison, but this show is largely about the bonds between three young brothers, Shane, Dean and Matt.
Shane (Tim Ohl) is put away for a misdemeanour which we never see, taking the rap for Matt (Craig Bary/Luke Hockley), who is deaf, and it’s the flashbacks to the boys’ life beforehand, and Shane’s first experiences behind bars, which are the focus.
The snapshots of the brothers together are beautifully done. These are quite often very simple, naturalistic moments. They graffiti trains, get wasted on New Year’s Eve, and wrestle, wrestle, wrestle.
The literal and figurative wrestling in the show really is the star. All three performers work beautifully together, in movements that are in turn brutal, elegant, frightening and charming. They own and work the space, in and out of the ring, to great effect.
In particular, one segment, depicting Shane’s state of despair and languor in jail, shows the power of dance. Ohl moves through the space, with the aid of Gerard Van Dyck (Dean). You can get lost purely in Shane’s turmoil, forgetting there’s another body on stage moving with him, as he floats before you. At other times you can fully appreciate these two incredibly able dancers working beautifully in harmony with each other.
Ben Cobham and Andrew Livingston’s set and lighting design works well, especially the huge LED clock. Normally, such a device is used to speed ahead the narrative. Here, it compounds the slowness of time spent on the inside.
It is a shame we don’t find out exactly why Shane is behind bars. It limits the audience’s sympathy for him, not allowing them to fully engage in the question of the justice of his imprisonment, or to appreciate the sacrifice he’s made.
It’s also perhaps a testimony to the succinct power of the show, that the only other real quibble is a moment when a voiceover takes us into Shane’s head (“You won’t find me here”). This show does such a good job of showing, not telling, that this is almost superfluous. Through Ohl’s performance, we are there already.
Denborough keeps a tight, focused, grip on the whole piece. These three brothers become very real. And while men’s ability to communicate is much maligned, Denborough shows that they do have incredible ways of showing affection. And, like the performance space in Headlock, it’s a valid world of their own making.
Venue: The Studio | Sydney Opera House
Dates/Times: 22 – 24 May @ 8.15pm, 25 May @ 5pm
Tickets: From $20 to $49 or $20 to $39 concession
Bookings: 9250 7777 or www.sydneyoperahouse.com/thestudio